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Philip, prince of Spain, was born on 21 May 1527 at Valladolid and two weeks later christened amid ceremonies worthy of the first-born son of Don Carlos I, king of Castile and Aragon, known better to history as the Emperor Charles V, and Isabel, infanta of Portugal, empress and queen.[1]

A month later the ceremonies were stopped short: Charles learned that his armies, gathered in Italy to fight a league of Francis I, king of France, and Pope Clement VII de' Medici, had broken from control and brutally sacked papal Rome. Though he privately blamed the pope for the misfortune, Charles did public penance. The predictions of peace and prosperity for Prince Philip, made by court astrologers who plotted his sun in Gemini, seemed thus soon eclipsed by gloomier prospects, discerned by other seers, in the torrential rains that fell the day of his birth. For Philip was not only heir to Charles's vast possessions, but also to his many and mourning problems.

Charles's possessions came to him largely through inheritance, and excited the fear and envy of his contemporaries. In defense of these possessions, and from the circumstances of his times, Charles developed a sense of mission, which he passed, along with most of his lands, to Philip. What was the nature of Charles's inheritance and mission, which became paramount factors in Philip's life?

In 1506, Charles, aged six, inherited the Low Counties and Franche-Comte (the Free Country of Burgundy) upon the death of his father, Philip the Handsome. It was after him that Charles named his own son and heir. Significantly, neither Charles nor Philip were customary names for Spanish kings, but rather were derived from the line of Valois dukes of Burgundy, to whose dominions and interests Charles bound the destiny of Spain and the rest of the Catholic Monarchy.[2]

The Catholic Monarchy consisted of Castile and the realms of the crown of Aragon, Aragon in Spain and Italian kingdoms of Sicily, Sardinia and Naples, and was brought together by the marriage of their rules, Isabella the Catholic, queen-proprietress of Castile,[3] and Ferdinand the Catholic, king of Aragon. Charles's mother Queen Joanna became their heir through the unexpected deaths of her elder brother and sister, something Ferdinand had not reckoned with when he arranged her marriage to Philip, the only son of the Emperor Maximilian I, for the sake of the Emperor's alliance against the king of France. [12]

When Isabella died in 1504, Joanna and her husband, now King Consort Philip I, hastened to Castile to assume its government and, in effect, divide the Catholic Monarchy. Philip attempted to set the erratic Joanna aside, claiming that she was incompetent to rule by reason of madness, but the Castilian Cortes balked at his claim.[4] In 1506 he died, Ferdinand then attempted the same manoeuvre, but with success. The highly strung Joanna, broken by Philip's death, was confined to a tower at Tordesillas, and Ferdinand served as her regent in Castile, which resumed its place in the Catholic Monarchy. To succeed Ferdinand, upon his death in 1516, Charles had to continue his mother's confinement. He persuaded the Cortes of the Spanish realms to accept him as co-ruler, that is as king, alongside his unfortunate mother, and give him full exercise of royal power so long as she remained incompetent.

In 1519, Charles's paternal grandfather Maximilian (who had given Charles's dynasty its name, 'of Austria' or Hapsburg) died, leaving Charles the Austrian duchies. In the same year, Charles was elected Holy Roman Emperor, an office the Habsburgs were coming to consider their own.

From his grandparents Charles also received legacies of other than lands. He inherited an ongoing war with the king of France over dynastic claims and strategic positions, the duty to protect the Church of Rome against the new Protestant heresies, and the task of defending Christendom against its traditional foe, the Islamic world, led aggressively by the Ottoman Turks in the sixteenth century. Symbolically, these brewing troubles came to a head in the sack of Rome, in which many of them were involved, and appeared to end that fortunate age we now call the Renaissance, dashing the optimism generated by the 'new learning', new inventions such as printing and the discovery of the New World.

It was against this background that Charles developed his sense of mission, for which he believed Providence had endowed him with his extraordinary inheritance.[5] Within Christendom, he wished for peace among Christian princes, on his terms, and a solution to the issues dividing the reformers from Rome: once these goals had been realized, he hoped to resume the crusade against Islam. Charles's programme, needless to say, was widely opposed and never succeeded. His world therefore appeared increasingly grim, ever shattered by costly wars, shaken by reformers and threatened by the Turks. Embittered, yet never giving up hope, he made it one of his chief duties to prepare his son and heir to face this world and follow him in his mission. [13]

We know little of Philip's earliest years. During nearly five of them (1529-33) Charles was absent from Spain, and thus could not supervise in person his son's upbringing or bring his fatherly presence to bear. Philip and his sisters, Mara (b.1529) and Juana (b. 1535), were largely under the control of their mother, Isabel, a woman of regal dignity, strong character and profound religiosity. Charles, who had married her in 1526 for political reasons, had soon come to love and respect her deeply.

The Empress frequently reminded Philip that he was the son of the greatest emperor the world had ever know, and to comport himself accordingly.[6] When he did not, she could be sever, and on at least one occasion she punished him hard enough for her ladies to sob at 'such cruelty'.[7] Charles, on the other hand, seems to have been more indulgent: when he found Philip romping with some other children in the royal bedchamber, he accepted his son's excuse that the others 'had started it'; they were scolded and sent away, while Philip remained in his father's good graces[8].

Charles though moody, could be outgoing and affable, while Isabel was reserved, and kept her warmth for the intimate circles of family and friends. Here Phillip took more after his mother than his father: in public he was dignified, even haughty, never affable; but with his family and a few friends he was capable of great tenderness and affection. Isabel, however, was not lacking in a sense of humour. Philip's first governor, Don Pedro Gonzalez de Mendoza, a cleric and son of the duke of Infantado, wrote in 1535 to Charles that he and the marquis of Lombay (Francisco Borja, later superior general of the Jesuits) had led Prince Philip, mounted on a burro, through the streets of Toledo, causing the crowds to joke and the Empress, who followed, to laugh.[9] In humour as in deportment, the evidence of his later life suggests that Philip learned to his mother's side: he laughed at antics,[10] but avoided the unbuttoned revels, popular in the Netherlands, which Charles enjoyed.

Although Philip grew up with his mother's manner and temperament, he worshipped Charles, the mighty father and emperor; and Charles, so often absent from Philip's life, when with him showered him with affection and took him into his confidence about the great affairs of the world. Above all Philip wanted to be worthy of Charles: it was against his dreams of Charles's triumphs and his nightmares of Charles's failures that Philip measured his own conduct, and if Gregorio Maranon, personal physician of Alfonso XIII of Spain and a fine amateur historian, is correct, Philip in so doing found himself inadequate[11]. [14] Philip said too little about himself for us ever to be sure about what went on inside his mind: studying the mature king and trying to find the roots of his later conduct in his childhood and with his parents must always remain a risky business.

In 1535 Charles removed Philip from the tutelage of his mother and her ladies to begin his education in the world of men. He established a household for the prince, to whom he assigned as governor his old companion and councilor, Don Juan de Zuniga, comendador mayor of Castile. The best evidence for Philip's life in these years comes from the letters of Zuniga's wife, Dona Estefania de Requesens, to her mother.[12] We learn from them of Philip's childhood illnesses, and of the games he played with children of the court: on one occasion she describes Philip playing with his page, her son Don Luis de Requesens, both engrossed in building a church of playing cards. Philip's chief amusement seems to have been arranging mock tournaments, but he also followed closely his parents' interest in world affairs.

Zuniga's prime function in Philip's upbringing concerned the prince's development in the courtly and manly arts. In this he could be severe with the prince, which Charles, who apparently could be severe with the prince, which Charles, who apparently could not, appreciated.[13] Under Zuniga's guidance Philip learned to ride and hunt, and to participate in various forms of Jousting, such as tilting and the graceful Moorish joust with light lances called canas, which demanded good horsemanship rather than brute strength. In the gentle arts, Philip learned to act gallantly and elegantly, with proper grace and courtesy,[14] as befitted the ideal of the Renaissance prince. He played the guitar but seems not to have sung. He became fond of birds, flowers and the woods, a side of his character more representative of the Netherlands than of Spain;[15] and from Charles he also acquired a taste for the fine arts and good music.

The academic side of Philip's upbringing was the province of Master Juan Martinez Siliceo, an affable but bigoted cleric of humble origins. Siliceo had studied philosophy and theology in Spain and at Paris, and was called from a chair at Salamanca to be Philips's tutor. While he wrote Latin well and later composed religious treatises, his first interest was mathematics, in which he published several works. Not surprisingly, mathematics became Philip's strongest subject.

Assisting Siliceo in Philip's education were two well-know scholars, the humanist Honorato Juan, a disciple of the Renaissance educational theorist Luis Vives, and the Aristotelian Juan Gines de Sepulveda, who subsequently wrote Latin chronicles about the reigns of Charles [15] and Philip, and upheld against Fray Bartolome de las Casas the rightness of conquering and enslaving non-Christian peoples.

Philip pursued his studies both privately and in small classes of five or six children of courtiers, including young Requesens. For a while Philip's cousin Maximilian (born in Vienna on 31 July 1527), son of Charles's brother, Ferdinand, also shared these classes. Charles was particularly anxious that Philip master Latin and acquire some fluency in French: he had himself learnt languages in the thick of events, as he inherited realms with populations each speaking a different language or dialect. Latin, the one tongue all educated Europeans knew, was vital; French was important for the Low Countries, even in the Flemish-speaking provinces, Castilian, on the othar hand, was understood outside Spain only in Portugal and Italy. We have no evidence that Charles tried to have Philip learn German or any of the Netherlandish dialects. Philip never became as good a linguist as his father - a fact for which Charles blamed Siliceo, who, he claimed, did not work his pupil hard enough.

Philip learned to read Latin and to speak it well enough to sustain a conversation.[16] He understood Portuguese, his mother's native tongue, and could use it. French, however, he was hesitant in speaking and lost able to follow well; he could read it, but ordinarily had French correspondence translated into Castilian for his convenience. Philip was fluent only in Castilian, but even in this no literary stylist. His writings followed his thoughts at random, and his secretaries gave them whatever polish they needed according to the bureaucratic formulae of the times. Philip's biographer Luis Cabrera de Cordoba (whose history of the Prudent King is still worth studying) grew up at Philip's court and several his government as a secretary. He claimed that the king, possessing a world empire, wanted to make Castilian the world language, as Latin and been the language of the Roman Empire and Greek of the Macedonian. Certainly Philip had before him the example of Charles V who in 1536 chose to address the pope and cardinals in Castilian rather than Latin.

Philip's childhood came to an abrupt and early end. Just before his twelfth birthday, his mother died. Charles was present to console is in children, but not for long: affairs of state took him to the Netherlands in late autumn, and he left Philip in Spain as a symbol of keeping faith with his Iberian kingdoms. The young prince continued his academic studies under Siliceo, but he also began to take part in the affairs of state, by attending meetings of the royal councils and noting their procedures. His instruction in statecraft lay in the hands of Zuniga, [16] Archbishop Tavera of Toledo Charles's lieutenant-general of Castile, and Francisco de los Cobos, Charles's secretary for finances. He took advice attentively, and observed closely the actions of those around him.

Charles retuned to Spain in late 1541, but departed in May 1543 for Germany and the Low Countries to conduct a war against his many enemies, the king of France, the German Protestant league and the Ottoman Turks. This time he appointed Philip, not quite sixteen, his regent in Spain, and gave him the task of supporting his own efforts.

[1]Charles and Isabel were married in March 1526. For Charles V, see Karl Brandi, The Emperor Charles V (English trans., London 1939); Royall Tyler, The Emperor Charles V (London, New York 1956); and Manuel Fernandez Alvarez, Carlos V, XVIII of Historia de Espana, edited by R. Menendez Pidal (Madrid 1965) and his Charles V (London 1975).

[2]This term, used by modern Spanish historians and based on the royal title Rey catolico (conferred by the papacy on Ferdinand and Isabella), is preferable to the ‘Spanish Empire’ or even the ‘Spanish Monarchy’ in describing Philip’s Spanish and South Italian dominions taken together: all were his personal possessions, not the possessions of the Spanish nation-state.

[3]Reina proprietaria was the title by which the Segovians acclaimed Isabella their queen in 1474, making it clear that she, not her husband Ferdinand of Aragon, ruled Castile.

[4]For a sympathetic treatment of Juana, see Townsend Miller, The Castles and he Crown; Spain 1451 – 1555 (New York, London 1963).

[5]For the development of Charles’s thinking, see Manuel Fernandez Alvarez, Politica Mundial de Carlos V y Felipe II (Madrid 1966).

[6]R. B. Merriman, The Rise of the Spanish Empire in the Old World and the New, 4 vols. (New York 1918 – 34, reprinted 1962) IV, ‘Philip the Prudent’, 19, n. 3.

[7]J. M. March, La Ninez y juventud de Felipe II, 2 vols. (Madrid 1941) I, 46.

[8]Ibid., II, 335.

[9]Ibid., I. 48.

[10]Merriman, IV, 30.

[11]Gregorio Maranon, Antonio Perez, 2 vols. (Madrid, 7th ed. 1963)

[12]March, Ninez, II, 175 – 352.

[13]Ibid., II. 29-30.

[14]Luis Cabrera de Cordoba, Felipe II, Rey de Espana (1619) 4 vols. (Madrid 1876 -77) I, 4.

[15]Claudio Sanchez Albornoz, Espana: un enigma historico, vols. (Buenos Aires 1956) II, 518-28, contests the oft-made claim that Philip II was the most typically Spanish of Spanish kings. I am inclined to accept his view.

[16]For example of Philip’s Latin see the Public Records Office, Calendar of State Papers, Foreign (reign of Mary) 1554, 84-85, 17 May 1554.